EU Policy. Future of Nature Restoration Law uncertain amid further delay

EU environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius in June 2022 unveils proposals to slash pesticide use and restore ecosystems.
EU environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius in June 2022 unveils proposals to slash pesticide use and restore ecosystems. Copyright Claudio Centonze/ EU/Claudio Centonze
Copyright Claudio Centonze/ EU/Claudio Centonze
By Robert Hodgson
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With half a dozen member states blocking the final adoption of the Nature Restoration Law, a key element of the EU's flagship Green Deal, Hungary is being singled out for withholding its previous support.


A minority of EU members have once again prevented the adoption of legislation designed to reverse decades of ecosystem degradation and honour a global agreement to halt biodiversity loss.

The Nature Restoration Law was proposed in 2022 just months before the EU was instrumental in securing a global agreement to protect 30% of the earth’s land and sea under the UN Convention on Biological Diversity. But the future of the key piece of Green Deal legislation, which scraped through the European Parliament despite a bid to torpedo it by the large, conservative European People’s Party and right-wing allies, is now looking increasingly uncertain.

Diplomats reopened the file today (22 March) at a scheduled meeting two days after Belgium, as EU Council presidency holder, postponed a vote when it became clear there was insufficient support from member states. Itself compelled to abstain due to opposition from its northern Flemish region, Belgium failed to muster the necessary qualified majority to approve a legislative compromise struck with MEPs and adopted by the European Parliament last month.

A presidency source said the planned vote was taken of the agenda and would be rescheduled for a future meeting “in due time”. It has also been withdrawn from the agenda of a summit of EU environment ministers on 25 March, where it was hoped the law would get the final rubber stamp.

A diplomatic source from a country supporting the nature law told Euronews that the delay was once again down to Hungary holding out. Despite Austria, Finland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland and Sweden all refusing to back the law, environmental campaigners were also quick to aim their anger at Budapest, whose well-disciplined MEPs from prime minister Viktor Orbán Fidesz party actually backed the legislation in the parliamentary vote.

“It’s strange that the Hungarian government chose this exact moment to experience short term memory loss,” said Erich de Castro Dias a policy officer with Climate Action Network Europe, also referring to a previous EU Council discussion. “Maybe other Member States can share their notes from just a few short months ago - when this exact text was debated and Viktor Orbán approved.”

The diplomatic source said European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen had raised the issue with Orbán and possibly other government leaders, currently in Brussels for a European Council summit, but observed that the fact the nature law had also been removed from Monday’s Environment Council agenda “doesn’t look good”.

Asked about the nature law earlier today at an unrelated press conference, von der Leyen rejected a common criticism of EU environmental laws. “Yes, we have an issue with competitiveness,” she said, citing issues such as a lack of skilled workers and sluggish digitalisation. “But you should not take the European Green Deal as a scapegoat, on the contrary it is the step forward to modernise our economy.”

Under the law as provisionally agreed, EU members would have to start reversing biodiversity loss on at least 20% of the EU's land and sea by the end of the decade, while collectively opening up 25,000km of dammed waterways and planting 3bn new trees. In parallel, it sets targets for the incremental restoration of a range specific ecosystems, from seagrass meadows to drained peatland.

The obstruction of the Nature Restoration Law is the latest example of a pushback, notably by political conservatives and the farmers whose interests they profess to represent, against the green agenda of the EU executive led by German politician Ursula von der Leyen – who hails from the EPP group and is seeking a second term as Commission president after the forthcoming EU elections.

Last month von der Leyen herself withdrew a complementary proposal to halve pesticide use across the EU after months of bickering and deadlock in the Council and Parliament, while a due diligence law dubbed the CSDDD intended to avoid environmental damage along supply chains squeaked through this month after a similar refusal by a handful of governments to abide by an earlier political agreement.

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